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Mark Blumenthal Headshot

Health Care: 'Willing to Pay' How Much?

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My [column][1] for today takes a skeptical look at questions that ask Americans if they are "willing to pay" more in taxes to fund health care reform.

Surveys conducted last month yielded anywhere from 40% to 57% of adults or registered voters who said they would be willing to pay more to support the goal of providing health insurance to all Americans. See the [column][1] for details, but this gist is that support for higher taxes is likely much lower than some recent results would imply.

I asked some campaign pollsters for their thoughts on these results. The response from Democratic pollster [Fred Yang][2] came a few hours too late for the column. He beleives that "abstract" questions like those I cite,

>tend NOT to capture the full anti-tax sentiment of voters. In the real world, the public tends to either forget the benefit and/or don't actually receive it, but they surely remember the tax part of the equation. It's hard to poll prospectively, as you know, but my experience is that voters typically remember the tax part and that's how they tend to act at the ballot box.

>I do think we can get to a more accurate sentiment by asking INTENSITY. For example, I'd have asked the 57% who support raising taxes in the CBS poll if they "strongly" supported or "only somewhat or weakly" supported raising taxes. I think asking INTENSITY, esp among pro-tax respondents, helps get to a more realistic sense of public opinion on taxes.

[Whit Ayres][3], the Republican pollster who conducts the Resurgent Republic surveys, argues that the questions like those I cited are like asking "do you like vanilla ice cream?" Well, says Ayres, "of course, the vast majority of Americans like vanilla ice cream." These pollsters get a "very misleading read," he says because they do not ask, "metaphorically speaking...'Do you prefer vanilla or chocolate ice cream?'" Ayres got a different result with his own question:

>When we [asked][4], for Resurgent Republic, " Would you prefer a health care reform plan that raises taxes in order to provide health insurance to all Americans, or a plan that does not provide health insurance to all Americans but keeps taxes at current levels? " we found a 52 to 39 percent margin for keeping taxes at current levels. "Willing to" makes it sound like a question of civic duty; prefer gets at the policy question.